Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Pedestrian Safety Panic

Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

The Tampa Bay Times "institutional voice" raised the alarm on pedestrian safety recently.

St. Petersburg has had more pedestrians killed this year than homicides. This troubling trend is also reflected in national statistics: 2018 saw the highest number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed in the United States since 1990. While encouraging more walkers and bikers is commendable and creates a more sustainable transportation system, their safety is paramount. This is a community issue more than a law enforcement issue, and better safety will require more vigilance by drivers, walkers and bikers alike.
The subheading is "It will take a combination of urban planning, enforcement and driver awareness to reverse the trend."

Is that really the full story?

The Times editorial obfuscates the data, making comparisons between pedestrian deaths, homicides (they never quote any numbers, as if homicides have any relation to pedestrian deaths), and national statistics. And that's just in the opening statement.

What's really going on?

There is a lot of data available at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration available in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), incorporating national and local traffic fatalities, including St. Petersburg. FARS provides information on the times of day, locations of accidents, the ages of the victims, the factors contributing to the accidents and much more. FARS also provides ways to query the data to drill down into the locales and metrics of interest, such as pedestrian fatalities. FARS queries and some FARS static data were used to perform further analysis discussed below. We will focus on St. Petersburg, since that was the subject of the Times editorial.

First of all, the data does appear to confirm an increase in pedestrian deaths.

St. Petersburg Pedestrian Fatalities 2010 - 2018
 Clearly there has been an increasing trend in pedestrian fatalities in St. Petersburg since 2010.

Tampa Pedestrian Fatalities 2010 - 2018
For comparison with St. Petersburg, Tampa also has an increasing trend of pedestrian fatalities.

St. Petersburg Pedestrian Fatalities per 100,000 population
Considering the rate of pedestrian fatalities as St. Petersburg population grows, while somewhat moderated, still shows an increasing rate of pedestrian fatalities. As a comparison, using FARS, the state of Florida rate for 2017 was 3.12 pedestrian deaths per 100,000, and 3.82 for Pinellas in 2017.

The Times does have a point here. The data does confirm a troubling increase in pedestrian deaths.

However, there are some interesting details in the data the Times did not cover to try to understand this trend.

St. Petersburg Time of Day of Pedestrian Fatalities
Since 2010, 75.6% of pedestrian deaths occurred at night. Most of the increase since 2014 appears to be due to nighttime incidents, which are increasing faster than daytime pedestrian deaths since 2010.

Non-Motorist fatality location
Since 2010, 72% of fatalities occurred away from intersections. This suggests a majority of pedestrian deaths were not near crosswalks.
St. Petersburg race of pedestrian fatalities 2010 - 2018
The vast majority of pedestrian fatality victims, nearly 63%, were white, 21% black, and 8% Hispanic, closely tracking St. Petersburg demographics.

Additionally, the FARS data reports on Related Factors for fatalities.
Pedestrian Killed, Related Factors,  Florida 2017

Failure to yield right of way
In roadway improperly (standing, lying, working, playing)
Not visible (dark clothing, no lighting, etc.)
Improper crossing of roadway or intersection
Darting or running into road
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officer
Wrong--way walking
Inattentive (talking, eating, etc.)
Entering/exiting parked/standing vehicle
Physical impairment
Vision obscured (by rain, snow, parked vehicle, sign, etc.)
Asleep or fatigued
Emotional (e.g. depression, angry, disturbed)
Ill, blackout
Non--Motorist pushing  vehicle
Portable Electronic Devices
Traveling on Prohibited Trafficways
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication
Other factors
None Reported


FARS reports the factors that were involved in the accident such as “failure to obey traffic signs” or “traveling on prohibited trafficways.” These are factors that relate to the pedestrians, not the vehicle drivers. While FARS also reports on factors relating to drivers, it does so for all accidents, not breaking out pedestrian accidents. There may be multiple factors associated with an accident.

Surprisingly, alcohol, drugs, and portable electronic devices do not appear to be big contributors to pedestrian fatalities in Florida. Note, however, in FARS, the overall US Pedestrian Killed, by Related Factors data for 2017 shows 11.3% under the influence or alcohol, drugs, etc. Most likely Florida is not correctly reporting the under the influence data.

Clearly "In roadway improperly", "Not visible", "Improper crossing", "Darting or running into road", and other factors are associated with pedestrians, not drivers. This suggests pedestrians share at least some fault for a substantial portion of these accidents.
Peeling back the data provides some additional insights beyond the Times editorial.

Pedestrian deaths are more likely to occur away from intersections than at intersections. This suggests jaywalking is related to increased risk of fatality.

Pedestrian deaths are more likely to occur at night. This suggests poor visibility at night is a contributing factor.

Given the demographics of the victims, pedestrian fatalities in St. Petersburg do not appear to have any racial disparity compared to the entirety of St. Petersburg.

While I want to avoid blaming the victims, and not all the FARS data captures drivers behaviors, pedestrian death related factors suggest that in many cases their actions are contributing to the accidents.

The Times has some elaboration to reduce pedestrian deaths in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg is not unaware. In May, the City Council approved a 20-year “Complete Streets” program that would add more crosswalks, bike lanes and other safety methods to streets around the city. The city has already added wide bike lanes to major thoroughfares, like those on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N between 4th and 30th Avenues N, which has been controversial. At the same time, the St. Petersburg Police Department recently received a contract for almost $80,000 to “conduct specialized traffic enforcement" focused on bicyclist and pedestrian safety from October to May. It will take multiple approaches to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safer. 
As cities such as St. Petersburg continue to create neighborhoods and urban cores that encourage walking and biking, the design of public spaces and the approach of law enforcement should continue to evolve. Pedestrian deaths have to go down. The vigilance of drivers has to go up.
Yes, "Pedestrian deaths have to go down. The vigilance of drivers has to go up." But that's not all. The vigilance of pedestrians and cyclists has to go up as well.

If we are to continue to promote walking and biking and want to reduce the fatalities, the data suggests improving pedestrian's awareness of their risks, the proper understanding of rights of way, increasing the use of helmets for cyclists (and scooters), wearing bright and/or reflective clothing at night, engaging drivers with eye contact before crossing roads, and safely navigating in traffic must be part of the solution.

Everyone of these deaths, and all traffic deaths, are tragedies. No one can argue against the goal of death reduction with programs such as Vision Zero, which has been adopted by St. Petersburg, Tampa, and other municipalities in Florida. However, the FARS data suggest some additional activities should be prioritized towards the goal of Vision Zero.

The Times and other activists have been on a kick the last several years promoting transit, bike, walking, and complete streets at the expense of automobiles. While there has been some increase in pedestrian, and small increase in bicyclists participation, transit use has decreased, while people still prefer to drive. This is promoting a deadly mix of bicyclists, pedestrians, and cars on arterials and surface streets. Complete streets further condense this mix through increasing automobile congestion for the benefit of the pedestrians and cyclists, increasing the odds of collisions. Any auto vs. pedestrian or bicyclist accident is too often a deadly outcome for the pedestrian or cyclist. A few more miles of complete streets around St. Petersburg won't make a dent in this tragedy, and in some cases nationally, have been shown to make it worse.

This also should include enforcement for pedestrians as well as drivers. Too many jaywalkers results in too many pedestrian deaths. Bicyclists ignoring traffic laws and riding against traffic is another risky activity. Nationally and statewide, and most certainly locally, many pedestrians under the influence are killed. The pedestrian victims demographics closely matches St. Petersburg's demographics. Stronger enforcement should not be sidelined by concerns from the "biking while black"scandal in Tampa a few years ago.

After all, if Vision Zero can't use all available tools for safety and fatality reduction, for pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers, then St. Petersburg and other municipalities in Tampa Bay adopting Vision Zero are not serious.

It will take much more than "a combination of urban planning, enforcement and driver awareness to reverse the trend" if the Times and urbanists really care about saving lives.

Posted by EyeOn TampaBay at 5:30 AM 

This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

Friday, November 15, 2019

PSTA: over half of fleet is “life expired,” ridership drops further, and more

Tampa, Fl 

From: Tampa Bay Guardian
Edited by: Tom Rask

The agenda for PSTA’s October board meeting was packed with costly surprises for the taxpayers. There was a half million dollar cost overrun that went undetected for three years, the revelation that 56% of PSTA’s buses are “life expired,” and also an “unexpected” expenditure in the amount of $554,000 for the proposed Central Avenue BRT project.

The board meeting  first dealt with a $489,670 cost overrun involving refurbished bus engines. The mistake was not discovered by PSTA staff for three years.

No details were provided about the who and the why before the board unanimously approved a contract amendment.
Despite this retroactive spending increase of 45% for money already spent, PSTA currently has zero refurbished bus engines in stock.
The PSTA board then approved $9.7 million to purchase new trolleys, which are mainly used along the beach and on the Central Avenue Trolley (CAT)

During the discussion of the trolley expenditure, PSTA Finance Director Debbie Leous stated that “as of today, we have 118 vehicles in our fleet that are life expired based on mileage,” this according to a standard used by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

PSTA has a fleet of 210 vehicles, which means that 56% of its fleet vehicles are currently “life expired.”

PSTA’s director of project development Abhishek Dayal then asked for $554,000 for”real estate acquisition expenses” and “right-of-way acquisition assistance” for PSTA’s proposed 10-mile Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (CABRT) project.

Under questioning from Pinellas county commissioner Dave Eggers, Dayal stated that no money had been budgeted for these items at the beginning of the project.
“So this is another unexpected expense,” Eggers said. However, Eggers voted to approve the spending.

The estimated cost of the CABRT project is now approximately $45 million, almost three times as much as the $16.5 million amount that PSTA CEO Brad Miller told the FTA in March of 2016 letter. Miller wrote in that letter (page 4):
“The Central Avenue BRT project’s capital costs are estimated at $16.5 million ($1.4 million per mile), assuming 5 articulated buses and 25 stations. Capital costs also include right-of-way improvements and ticket vending machines.”
Those right-of-way improvements are the very expenses that PSTA then proceeded to not budget for, according to Dayal. The question is whether the expenses were “unexpected” after all.

If completed, the CABRT will not make money for PSTA. Instead, it will cost PSTA $3 – $5 million per year and speed up its insolvency.
PSTA will spend $132.5 million in its current fiscal year, a 30.3% increase over the previous fiscal year, and a 65% increase over the year before that.  Immediately below, see a relevant excerpt from the current PSTA budget showing these numbers.

Apart from the size of its spending, there are other things that are increasing at PSTA: salaries and fringe benefits. These have increased 14.9% and 23.1% respectively in the last two years. There have been reports of insolvency at PSTA since 2014 by various news outlets, reports that continue to this day. 

Adding to PSTA’s woes was ridership data provided at the board meeting showing that PSTA’s full-year paid ridership (“Bus Revenue Passenger Trips”) for fiscal year 2019 is the lowest it has been in 11 years. PSTA CEO Brad Miller did not comment on the dismal numbers, even though they were on the agenda.

All PSTA board members are politicians or politically appointed insiders, and none of them commented or asked questions about PSTA’s declining paid ridership. PSTA is projecting lower farebox revenue for this fiscal year than last, and that farebox revenue will only cover 7.6% of its spending.  Almost all of the rest of PSTA’s spending, well over 90%, is paid for by taxpayers.

The Guardian has published 26 articles about PSTA over the last 3+ years documenting failed strategieswildly incorrect past projections, plunging ridership and much more. It seems we will have occasion to write many more.
With over 90% of PSTA’s expenses paid by taxpayers and not customers, weak and feeble board, runaway expense and declining income, is PSTA essentially a poorly functioning communist enterprise?

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

READ THIS POST AT: Tampa Bay Guardian
This post is contributed by the Tampa Bay Guardian. The views expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet or any publications, blogs or social media pages where it may appear.
Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Guardian